WINZ debt can and should be wiped
After today accepting a petition from ActionStation member Kyle MacDonald calling on her to wipe WINZ emergency housing debt, the Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley informed ActionStation that changes to the current policy will be brought forward from September to 1 July.
ActionStation member and petition creator, Kyle MacDonald and ActionStation station co-founder Marianne Elliott meet Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox
When asked what could be done to help people and families facing the impossible choice between homelessness or unmanageable debt over the coming winter months, Ms Tolley acknowledged the urgency of the situation and told ActionStation members she would look into possible solutions. Soon after the meeting, the Minister’s office confirmed that policy changes, providing that the first week of emergency housing would be covered by a special needs grant rather than a loan, would be brought forward from 1 September to 1 July. This change was announced this afternoon by Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett.
ActionStation member Kyle MacDonald, who launched a petition last week calling on the Minister to wipe the debt incurred by people seeking emergency housing, welcomed this change and proposed several other solutions to the Minister.
“This is a positive step, and there is more that must be done, immediately," said MacDonald, "Firstly, WINZ case managers already have the discretion to issue special needs grants for emergency housing in what the Minister described as 'cases where people are homeless through no fault of their own'. Given that the lack of emergency housing, and of social housing stock generally, is not the fault of anyone seeking emergency housing, this discretion could immediately be applied to everyone.”
Another solution proposed by MacDonald would be to set a cap on the cost of emergency housing past an initial period covered by a grant. “That cap could, for example, be set in line with income-related rents around the country,” says MacDonald, “which would get away from the unfairness of the current situation in which some people are being forced to borrow massive amounts of money to pay for over-priced temporary solutions - like $190 per night motels - because of a lack of housing options which is not their fault.”
On the matter of wiping existing debt, the Minister confirmed that WINZ already has discretion to do so, but only in extreme cases. This morning the Prime Minister expressed concern that wiping existing debt would be unfair to people who have worked hard to repay their debts to WINZ in the past.
In response, ActionStation spokesperson Marianne Elliott says “Any time a policy is changed to make it more humane, there will be people who cannot benefit from that change because they have already suffered under the harsher policy. This cannot be a good argument for not making positive change. It’s like arguing that it was unfair to pass the Employment of Females Act in 1873 because many women had been forced to work without holidays, sanitation or ventilation prior to that and it would be unfair on them to change the law.”
Following the meeting with the Minister, MacDonald and ActionStation co-founder Marianne Elliott met Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who reiterated her Party’s strong support for wiping all debt incurred by people seeking emergency housing.